counseling, happiness, psychology, relationships

Growing Up in a Dysfunctional Family: Whose Life are You Really Living? Are You Self-Differentiated?

Since my days as a counseling graduate student, I have ALWAYS been a fan of Bowen Family Systems theory.

Bowen Family Systems theory is a theory of human behavior that views the family as an emotional unit and uses systems thinking to describe the complex interactions in the unit. It is the nature of a family that its members are intensely connected emotionally.

Often people feel distant or disconnected from their families, but this is more feeling than fact. Families so profoundly affect their members’ thoughts, feelings, and actions that it often seems as if people are living under the same “emotional skin.”

People solicit each other’s attention, approval, and support and react to each other’s needs, expectations, and upsets. The connectedness and reactivity make the functioning of family members interdependent. A change in one person’s functioning is predictably followed by reciprocal changes in the functioning of others. Families differ somewhat in the degree of interdependence, but it is always present to some degree (Bowen Center, 2019).

Bowen really explores the differences between healthy functioning families and dysfunctional families.

There are several characteristics that are generally identified within a healthy, well-functioning family. Some include: support; respect is abundant for all, privacy is respected, love and caring exists for ALL family members; an emotionally safe environment is present, new members are welcomed, people go gentle on the teasing and sarcasm, the family provides security AND a sense of belonging; OPEN lines of communication exists; the family system ALLOW members to change and grow, and the family makes each person within the family feel important, valued, respected and esteemed.

A dysfunctional family, on the other hand, is a family in which conflict, misbehavior, and abuse (physical or emotional) occur continuously and regularly, leading to other members to accommodate such actions.  Dysfunctional families don’t cope with stress in a healthy manner.  Blame is plentiful in a dysfunctional family. Poor communication is the norm. Boundaries are disregarded and habitually crossed. Rather than dealing with the stress that is causing problems, dysfunctional families lash out at each other.

If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, you are more likely to struggle with self-differentiation than if you were raised in healthy family systems unit.

Some signs you are part of a dysfunctional family unit (from Wikipedia):

  • Lack of empathy, understanding, and sensitivity towards certain family members, while expressing extreme empathy or appeasement towards one or more members who have real or perceived “special needs.” In other words, one family member continuously receives far more than they deserve, while another is marginalized
  • Denial(refusal to acknowledge abusive behavior, possibly believing that the situation is normal or even beneficial; also known as the “elephant in the room”
  • Inadequate or missing boundaries for self (e.g. tolerating inappropriate treatment from others, failing to express what is acceptable and unacceptable treatment of self and others)
  • Disrespect of others’ boundaries (e.g. physical contact that other person dislikes; breaking important promises, not respecting someone’s wishes; purposefully violating a boundary another person has expressed)
  • Extremes in conflict (either too much fighting or insufficient peaceful arguing between family members)
  • Unfair or unfair treatment of one or more family members due to their birth order, gender, age, family role, abilities (may include frequent appeasement of one member at the expense of others, or an uneven/inconsistent enforcement of rules)
  • Disrespect towards family members including shaming, displays of contempt, bitterness, ridicule, judgmental statements, demonization/dehumanizing, belittling, hypocrisy, excessive criticism, excessive gossip

Mind you, no family is perfect, even the functioning ones. Dysfunction exists on a spectrum.

Yet often in dysfunctional families members are very often enmeshed. Enmeshed families are rigid systems where boundaries are generally not respected. People in enmeshed families don’t know where they end and another family member begins. This is a hinderance to the differentiation process.

In an enmeshed family, control is usually an ongoing issue. Enmeshed family members often try to control how other family members think and act while simultaneously fighting off perceived attempts of feeling controlled themselves in how to think and act. Live and let live is NOT a mantra in an enmeshed family.

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Have you ever heard someone complain about the “drama” in his or her family? Chances are that the family fits the profile of the enmeshed family, in which each family member feels obliged to react to whatever is going on in the lives of other family members, effectively multiplying the tension.

In an enmeshed family, you will be made to feel guilty even if you didn’t do anything wrong. Any step outside the unspoken rules of the family system will be met with resistance.

Guilt, shame, abandonment, ostracism, and rejection are all seen in a dysfunctional family as methods of keeping members “in line” with conforming and behaving within the family systems unit.

Ask yourself the following…

Do you ever catch yourself defending yourself to other family members (your choices, beliefs, feelings, decisions)?  Are you expected to defend such? Are new members welcomed in? Is everyone with the family system overly involved in the lives of each other with little privacy? Is change frowned upon? Does a parent tell one child that they are their favorite? Are emotions contagious–if someone is angry, it rubs off on other family members? Do people form coalitions and gang up on other family members? Are you made to feel guilty for saying no? Are parents best friends with their (still underage) children? Are parents overly involved with their children and their activities? These are all signs of enmeshment.

What happens if you are the process of self-differentiation and de-enmeshment from your family? You will in all likelihood be met with resistance. Often anger and guilt to follow.

The truth is some people live their whole lives UNdifferentiated from their family of origin.

It can be too painful to self-differentiate, depending on the level of dysfunction, within the family system.

When you attempt to begin the process of differentiation, the reaction you receive from family members can be too much for you to handle, depending on where you are at in your personal development.

Am example is the following.  Imagine you grew up with a mother who wanted to know EVERYTHING about your life–a behavior that continues well after you are into adulthood.  Maybe your mom feels ENTITLED to know anything she wants about you (She is your mother after all! As she would readily point out if you resisted–ie the GUILT tactic).  Mom repeatedly asks you personal questions about all aspects of your life–despite the fact you are 45 years old with your own wife and kids. Mom’s MO is to grill you with questions regardless of how personal they may in fact be. There is no line mom won’t cross!

Maybe you begin counseling to figure out a way to set boundaries with mom. The therapist gives you strategies to how to better manage the relationship. Next time, you see mom for Sunday dinner, she, BEING the woman she is, asks you a question on a topic you feel uncomfortable with discussing (your income, your marriage, how you are parenting your kids, insert uncomfortable topic here). Maybe you usually answered whatever question asked by her (ie the path of least resistance) but this time you respond by saying you feel uncomfortable. Maybe your mother replies you are being too “sensitive” (a common rebuttal in enmeshed families when you set a boundary). She may even ask why you are being so “difficult.” You reply calmly to mom that you understand why she is curious but you are not interested in talking about said topic today (or EVER  for that matter but today works in this example).

After Sunday dinner, a few days pass…you start to feel relieved that you were able to set the boundary with mom.

But then your sister calls. Your sister shares with you that your mom has been complaining about you being “overly sensitive” and “difficult” lately with her (in dysfunctional families “triangulation” is common).

Mom, you see, is annoyed with you, for setting a boundary. For not playing her game as usual. Thus she is now venting to your sister about you, hoping your sister relays her displeasure with you. That such displeasure will get you back in line because change destabilizes dysfunctional family systems.

This is a prime example of triangulation.

Triangulation is a manipulation tactic where one person will not communicate directly with another person, instead using a third person to relay communication to the second, thus forming a triangle. Triangulation may manifest itself as a manipulative device to engineer rivalry between two people, known as divide and conquer or playing one person against another (Bowen Family Center).

Being labeled something disparaging is par for the course in enmeshed families when you start the differentiation process. Change and growth are NOT welcome in such family systems. Often, once you stop playing the family system game, you are criticized. This is part of trying to get you to change back and not continue self-differentiating.

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If you are wondering how self-differentiated you currently are, I copied and pasted Bowen’s Scale of Differentiation below.

Bowen’s Scale of Differentiation:

0……………………..25……………………..50……………………..75……………………..100

0-25

Can’t distinguish between fact and feeling

Emotionally needy and highly reactive to others

Much of life energy spent in winning the approval of others

Little energy for goal-directed activities

Can’t say, “I think….I believe….”

Little emotional separation from their families

Dependent marital relationships

Do very poorly in transitions, crises, and life adjustments

Unable to see where they end and others begin

25-50 (many people are here)

Some ability to distinguish between fact and feeling

Most of self is a “false self” and reflected from others

When anxiety is low, they function relatively well

Quick to imitate others and change themselves to gain acceptance from others

Often talk one set of principles/beliefs, yet do another

Self-esteem soars with compliments or is crushed by criticism

Become anxious when a relationship system falls apart or becomes unbalanced

Often make poor decisions due to their inability to think clearly under stress

Seek power, honor, knowledge, and love from others to cloth their false self

50-75

Aware of the thinking and feeling functions that work as a team

Reasonable level of “true self”

Can follow life goals that are determined from within

Can state beliefs calmly without putting others down

Marriage is a functioning partnership where intimacy can be enjoyed without losing self

Can allow children to progress through development phrases into adult autonomy

Function well–alone or with others

Able to cope with crisis without falling apart

Stay in relational connection with others without insisting they see the world the same

75-100 (Few function at this level)

Is principle oriented and goal directed–secure in who they are, unaffected by criticism or praise

Is able to leave family of origin and become an inner-directed, separate adult

Sure of their beliefs but not dogmatic or closed in their thinking

Can hear and evaluate beliefs of others, discarding old beliefs in favor of new ones

Can listen without reacting and communicate without antagonizing others

Can respect others without having to change them

Aware of dependence on others and responsibility for others

Free to enjoy life and play

Able to maintain a non-anxious presence in the midst of stress and pressure

Able to take responsibility for their own destiny and life

Maybe you are reviewing this scale and finding your are less differentiated then you would have previously thought. What to do now?

Counseling is a great outlet to pursue in beginning the differentiation process.

a1.jpg Once again, please excuse grammatical, writing errors. This blog is more about the content (I am not Charles Dickens here).

To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822

etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

If you find yourself struggling with enmeshment, I find the following articles to be helpful resources of starting the process of de-enmeshing.

Resources:

https://drbaney.com/category/differentiation-of-self/

https://ct.counseling.org/2018/02/differentiation-of-self-through-the-lens-of-mindfulness/

https://theallendercenter.org/2017/10/the-differentiated-self-healthy-relationship/

counseling, happiness, psychology, self-help

Not Everyone Wants to Be Happy

One of the most common goals people express is their desire to be happy.

As Americans, our Declaration of Independence speaks to our  right to the “pursuit of happiness” ie our RIGHT to chase whatever our subjective happiness may be. We have a right to PURSUE happiness but obtaining it is not a given.

As a culture, we spend boatloads of money trying to figure out what EXACTLY personal happiness means to us. For Americans, happiness is almost an OBSESSION. The desire for it is woven into the fabric of our culture but in other parts of the world happiness is held in less esteem.

Often people turn to counseling with the objective “to be happier” at the end of the treatment process. Many of us search for happiness like the holy grail.

But happiness as a goal is not desired by all. The truth is not everyone wants to be happy.

Now many people would deny that being the case. I find most people readily admit to others they WANT to be happy. But their thoughts and actions denote otherwise.

People often destroy their own happiness.  THEY themselves destroy it. It can be painful to watch someone behave in such a self-destructive manner.

It plays out in a familiar fashion.

People hold onto relationships (romantic, familial, friendships) that make them feel bad. People continue in jobs that make them miserable. People give their power away to others–allowing other people to make them feel less than or ruin their days. People treat others poorly then wonder why they are lonely. People hold onto bad habits at the expense of their mental and physical well-being.

People negatively judge others. People negatively judge themselves. They think they need to be perfect to be loved. They seek the approval of others but do not give such approval to themselves.

People commonly obsess about the past. People often worry about the future. People frequently ruminate over things they can’t change–namely anything in the external world outside of themself.

People let their ego grow out of control. People procrastinate their ambition. People keep toxic people in their life. People continue being their own worst critic. People push people they love away.  People give up before they even start.

The truth is many people at a certain point in life settle. People settle for a life that does not bring them the happiness they desire. The moment a person chooses to settle is the moment them begin a slow death on the inside.

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As a counselor, if a client tells me that want to be happy, my automatic response is, WHAT does happiness mean for you? Because the truth is happiness can look quite different depending on who you ask. Happiness is not one universal outcome.

So why isn’t someone happy with their life?  The answer is often simple. Many people are not happy because they don’t really want to be. 

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I am not talking about people who have extenuating tough life circumstances: homelessness, unemployment, cancer, clinical depression, etc. I am talking people with no EXTREME trying life circumstance in their current day-to-day life.

I believe many of us know someone on paper who has no reason to be unhappy-financial secure, healthy, good relationships, etc. But when you are around them, you can tell you are in the presence of a person who is unhappy despite seemingly positive circumstances.

Many of us scratch our head to understand why someone who seemingly has it all going for them seems so UNHAPPY.

Of course, we never know what mental health struggles a person is facing behind closed-doors.  And for those people we should have the utmost compassion.

But for other people…they are not happy because they are pursuing conditional happiness. Conditional happiness is everything goes your way and you are happy. Almost everybody attempts to do it this way but this approach doesn’t work.

Just think about it. As soon as one thing does NOT go your way, which is inevitable, you will be unhappy. Thus the odds of being happy from a mindset of conditional happiness is low. There are too many external factors we cannot control.

Unconditional happiness–having the mindset that you will be happy DESPITE the fact everything does not go your way. This is more conducive to living a fulfilling life. You will be happy FOR THE MOST PART no matter WHAT because your happiness is not dependent on the outside world to affirm it.

Can you tolerate that? Can you feel a sense of happiness REGARDLESS of what is going on in the external world? Can you feel happy even if you do not like the circumstances of the outside world?

If you are dependent on the external world to be a certain way to be happy, you are going to live a very unhappy life. We need a cultivate a sense of happiness that is not dependent on the external world complying with our wishes. Having rules and conditions on other people, on outside circumstances, and the world at large is a recipe for UNhappiness.

Tell me if this sounds familiar…

Do you ever say to yourself, “I will be happy WHEN……fill in the blank” (when I lose weight, when I get that promotion, when my son graduates high school,  when my parents get along, when my spouse retires, when I have enough money in my bank account, etc.).

If you are living with a “I will be happy WHEN” mindset you will NEVER be happy.

You are creating dogmatic rules for what you need to be happy, many of which are dependent on other people OR the external world to give it to you.

The key to overcoming this approach is to focus on WHY you need certain things to be a certain way to ALLOW yourself to be happy. You can live your whole life waiting on circumstances to align and the day will never come. Putting your happiness on hold is doing a disservice to you and YOU alone.

Some tips to help you:

1)Remind yourself of all the blessings in your life. Too often we focus on the one thing we DON’T have instead of all the things we DO have. “First world problems” is something I will say to myself when I find  myself getting down on something that on a global scale is irrelevant.

2)Remember at any time you can lose one of the blessings YOU do have. Someone you love. Your job. Your health.  We need to start appreciating the IMPERFECT things we do have while we still have them. Life throws curveballs.

3)Disengage from people who steal the happiness you DO have. The Negative Nancy. The Debbie Downer. The Sour Sally. The Judgmental Jane. Pretty much anyone who does not seem to wish you happiness (in all likelihood they do not wish happiness for themselves either). Make sure you surround yourself with a good support system.

4)Don’t let disappointment destroy your happiness. We all get disappointed from time to time. It is an unfortunate part of life. Check your expectations and see what role you had in setting yourself up for said disappointment. Let go of hurt, unfulfilled expectations, and disappointment. You are not doing this for the outside world but for YOU. Do not give your happiness away to anything OUTSIDE of YOURSELF. Take positive steps to improve but enjoy yourself in the process.

The question is DO YOU WANT TO BE HAPPY? Or do you want to continue to live your life with conditional happiness? The choice is yours.

The bottom line is this: YOU and YOU alone are responsible for the conditions of your life. So instead of putting your happiness on hold, find opportunities to be more fulfilled. Not tomorrow but TODAY. If there are not opportunities, CREATE opportunities. Life, as we all have heard, is more about the journey than the destination.

Stop waiting for circumstances to be “just right” to allow yourself to be HAPPY.

And if you need help with this, counseling is a great place to start on your journey to unconditional happiness.

To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822

etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

counseling, goals, prosocialbehavior, psychology, relationshipadvice, relationships, self-help

10 Habits of Highly Miserable People

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It is often said that happiness is a choice. For a miserable person, they often choose to make themselves (and those around them) miserable.

The unfortunate reality is not everyone wants to be happy. Most people with such a disposition never seek mental health treatment. They do not think they are the problem but the problem is “out there” ie in the external world.

Miserable people often have a woe is me attitude. This victim mentality grates on those around them. This mentality is exhausting to be around. Miserable people are often allergic to responsiblity.  A miserable person believes people are always out to get them.  They often portray themselves as victims who should be rescued, deserving of our sympathy and attention.

Below are some common ways you can spot a miserable person:

1)They love to blame others. Miserable people are often martyrs—it works as a get out jail free card for taking responsibility for their own life. They love to make themselves miserable under the guise of “helping” others. Having a martyr complex essentially involves pointing the finger at other people or situations in your life and blaming them for your disappointments, unhappiness, and emotional turmoil. The reality is no one is responsible for your disappointments, unhappiness, and emotional turmoil EXCEPT you. We all experience these feelings, but we must learn to process our feelings and move on. Miserable people like to stay stuck in the cycle of blame.

2)They love to pick fights. Miserable people love to make other people miserable. Misery loves company right? People who are constantly unhappy love to take it out on other people. Some people are disputatious and repel people with their snarky comments, rude remarks, and negative demeanor.  If antagonistic behavior is an ongoing thing with someone, you are likely dealing with an habitually MISERABLE person.

3)They will get involved in other people’s drama. Miserable people often feel their life is boring. How do they spice it up? By getting involved in the drama of others. (Some go as far as to create drama between others to watch it unfold). Miserable people find drama energizing. Happy people tend to disengage from drama and the people who create it. For miserable people, drama is a way of life.

4)They always expect the worst (of themselves, others, and life in general). Life sucks and all the worst thing that can happen, happens to them, is the mantra of a miserable person. Miserable people often expect the worst of everyone even the people they claim to love. They think other people have bad intentions toward them. The truth is most people don’t have bad intentions but are flawed people. You can always tell a person with bad intentions because when called on their behavior, it gets worse NOT better. They will get more aggressive, more demeaning, more negative.

5)They hate people. This kind of follows from #4. All of us experience negative thoughts from time to time. But a miserable person will make it known how much they despise their fellow-man (which in all likelihood includes you). A miserable person never has a good thing to say about anyone. People are the worst, people are selfish, people are liars, are common refrains from a miserable person.

6)They are selfish. Miserable people put themselves first (but project that other people are selfish, ironic I know). A miserable person drives people away from them because of their negative behavior. Life is hard enough, most people don’t want to spend their time with a Debbie Downer. Miserable people only care about themselves and their own troubles. Only their perspective matters.

7)They are envious of other people. A miserable person is NEVER happy for someone else. Miserable people think someone else’s success or good fortune takes away from them. They view life as a zero sum game due to their scarcity mindset. Miserable people do NOT have an abundance mindset that there is enough love, success, and resources to go around. For them, life is dog eat dog.

8)They hate change. Miserable people hate anything new or different. Change requires effort and miserable people usually don’t want to step outside of their comfort zone. Miserable people will complain about feeling “stuck” but will refuse to do anything to change their circumstances.

9)They love to complain. Complaining is their favorite pastime. This ties in with the blaming, playing victim, and seeking attention/sympathy while playing the role of martyr.  Chronic complainers seek validation and sympathy from those around them. Woe is me. For chronic complainers, every person, every situation, is an opportunity to go on a fault-finding mission.

 

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10)They never do anything to improve their life. Most miserable go through life stagnant. The game of life is too hard so they refuse to play. Yet they resent people who are still IN the game.  The only game a miserable person plays is the blame game. Miserable people are addicted to unhappiness and it becomes a way of life for them.

What are some common root causes of a miserable personality?

  • Low self-esteem
  • The appeal of martyrdom
  • A belief that being miserable is inevitable
  • Underlying depression and anxiety
  • Feeling trapped by your circumstances
  • Living with chronic stress
  • Resistance to being healthy–physically, mentally, and emotionally

The truth is our thinking creates our feelings. If you are chronically unhappy, you need to take a look at your self-talk and how you think about others and relate to the world. If someone or something is truly making you unhappy, you can leave the relationship or situation. 

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Living in the free world, the truth is we ALWAYS have a choice. It may not be an easy choice or a simple solution. Yet you have the freedom to not need to tolerate mistreatment or miserable circumstances. 

If you find your struggling with feelings of misery or a miserable person in your life, counseling may be a great place to begin the journey to a happier life.

To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822
etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

 

 

 

counseling, goals, psychology, regrets, relationships, self-help

Regret: Are You Living or Merely Existing?

Who among us can say they have lived a life without ANY regrets?

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I would be suspicious of anyone who says they do not have at least a few regrets to their name (if they are passed a certain age that is).

Regret is an emotional state I wish on no one. Yet regrets are inevitable in life as we are all fallible human beings who make mistakes.

Thus maybe the best we can hope for in life is to have the right regrets.

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We are in the full swing of the holiday season. The holidays are a time of retrospection. If one struggles with regret, this time of year, it is sure to come to the surface.

Regret is common. Whether we acknowledge our regrets, to ourselves or others, is a separate issue.

Every one of us make mistakes in life. We ALL veer off course, make blunders, and fail. It’s is human nature.

Regret is a negative state that entails blaming ourselves for a bad outcome, feeling a sense of loss or sorrow at what might have been or wishing we could undo a previous choice that we made. 

Regret can be beneficial. It can push you to take corrective action–to attempt to right a past wrong. But some times there is no making right certain actions previously taken….and if that is the case you are likely to have chronic stress and ruminate over the past.  It is hard to move on when you cannot correct the mistakes of the past. In life, we don’t always get do-overs. This feeling of powerlessness and helplessness to change the past is one of the most horrendous aspects of regret.

We may regret how certain relationships unfolded. Most likely we will feel regret if our actions are to blame. Whether through not making the effort to stay in touch or from burning bridges. Inaction and undesirable action can both lead to feelings of regret.

Many of our chosen behaviors can lead to regret. Telling lies. Taking your loved ones for granted. Damaging a work relationship by blurting out something in the heat of the moment. Not following through on a promise to a client. Acting out our anger. Putting pride before those we care for.  Putting work before family. Putting our kids before our marriage. Perhaps we deny others happiness.  Or deny ourselves happiness. We may act against, not for other people. All sources of great regret later in life.

The thing is you see you reap what you sow. We all have the freedom to choose but we are not free from the consequences of those choices. This includes the emotional consequences of our choices.

Often times in counseling, I see people firsthand, face up to the emotional consequences of how they choose to live their life.

Regret comes from how we choose to live our life. Choices we made. Behaviors we executed. Or failed to execute. Regret is a painful emotion to face.

Here is a great article on the difference between regret vs. remorse.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/stop-caretaking-the-borderline-or-narcissist/201507/regret-vs-remorse

Our regrets may arise from living unconsciously. We forget to live in the moment. We follow the goals set forth for us by our parents, society, anyone BUT us. We live a life pretending to be someone we are not. We do not stand up for ourselves or others. We disregard our health and wellness. We hold ourselves back. We refuse to let go. We resist change getting ourselves stuck while the rest of the world moves on.

Sadly as people we are not very good at predicting what will bring us most happiness in the future. We are not able to accurately think about our future selves (hence why so many people do not plan for retirement or watch their weight/monitor their health–because their future selves do not seem REAL to them).

In Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling on Happiness, Gilbert shows how terrible we are at predicting what makes us happy. If you don’t listen to your own deepest values, one day you’ll regret having taken life too seriously and worrying too much about what others think. You will regret living a life that was not true to who you are.

Regret arises when we engage in forms of self-sabotage.

How do we self-sabotage? Procrastination. Acting out our anger. Self-injury. Comfort eating. Avoiding the doctor. Inaction. Self-medicating. The list goes on and on.

Just because we are adult does not mean our dreams just go away. Yes, we get older and our priorities and responsibilities change, but we still have things we want to be and goals we want to fulfill. We all have an idealized version of our self in our mind,  and while we will never be able to achieve every goal we imagine, we can’t even begin to approach our ideal self without giving it a try.

So…what does YOUR ideal life look like?

If you had a second chance at life, what would you do differently?

It is never too late.

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So take a moment to reflect.

What goals have you never been able to pull the trigger on? What dreams have you started to pursue only to quit? People are far more resilient than we give ourselves credit for.

What people do you regret losing touch with? What bridges did you burn that you regret? People are amazingly forgiving, especially if you take all of the right steps, to rectify such behavior.

Counseling can be a helpful avenue to pursue to help you or someone you know cope with feelings of regret. When people spend years fixating on a regrettable choice they often need professional help to move past it, and seeking counseling can help people talk through, understand, and move beyond regret.

It is time to take responsibility for your own life and your own happiness.  All the often we merely exist instead of live. We all have hopes, dreams, and things we’ve always wanted to do in life, but we put them off until “tomorrow.” And tomorrow often never comes. Everyone experiences challenges, but we all have choices. It is up to you to get the ball rolling. Or live with regret. The choice is yours.

Ask yourself. Are you LIVING or merely EXISTING?

To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822
etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

counseling, goals, psychology, self-help

December: A Time to Self-Reflect as Another Year Comes to an End

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At the end of each year, there is a great opportunity to reflect on yourself, your goals, your relationships, your career, and your health (both physical and mental).

December is an ideal time to take stock of how you feel you progressed the last twelve months. Perhaps to reflect on how you regressed (we are human after all).  Self-reflection is pivotal if you want to live your life by your own values, standards, and ambitions. It helps you build self-awareness. Our goals often become unrealized because we lack self-awareness. We live on auto-pilot. 

Self-reflection gives you the time to ask yourself the important questions. Without self-reflection it is easy to drift into a life of complacency. It is easy to become stagnant. People far too often take the path of least resistance. Just as you should review each day, week, and month, at the end of each year you should set aside time to review the year and reflect on how it unfolded. 

Are you happy with how your year turned out?

Are you happy with how your life has turned out?

December is a time of friends, fun, festivities, food, and family but most of all it’s a time of reflection and planning for the year ahead.

We all know January is notorious for short-lived resolutions. Yet in order to embrace the new, we must release the old. The old will block us from reaching our goals if we do not process through the past. The end of the year is an opportune time to think about what you accomplished, what you enjoyed, what you disliked, and what you want to improve upon in the new year. The new year is a great time to let go: let go of failed goals, past hurts, toxic people, your own negativity, and perpetual bad habits. Most importantly let go of things that are not meant for you: whether that may be goals that aren’t your own, certain relationships that bring you down, or your own self-defeating attitude. An important part of preparing for the New Year is to reflect on the past year—to release it—and to learn from it.…

If done right, it can also help you establish and achieve more meaningful goals.

I am a big believer in self-reflection to keep on track. As a therapist, I often reflect with my clients how they feel about the progression of their treatment and the counseling process. I am also a person who tries to make time to self-reflect on my own life. I aim to take time out of my schedule to ponder where I have been, where I am at presently, and where I would like to go. I reflect on what I am doing well, what I can do better, and am honest with myself about things I will never do well (the list is sadly longer than I care to admit 😉 ).

The end of the year is the perfect time to not just reflect on this past year, but to pay mind to where we are at in this stage of our life. Too often we are so caught up in our day-to-day lives, we fail to reflect on our journeys thus far.

Write out your thoughts and feelings. Do some journaling. Consider writing a letter—which can be a powerful self-development tool.  Consider writing a letter to people who hurt you–to get out the painful feelings and resentment (no, you do not actually send it). Process the pain of the past, take joy in the successes, and figure out how to forge ahead on the next chapter. 

Reflect upon what you did, how you felt, what you liked, what you didn’t and what you learned. What do you want to continue in the new year? What do you hope to change? Have you achieved any of your goals? Did you stumble on your pursuit of certain goals? What have you learned about yourself? About other people?

Consider making a list of all your goals for the next year, next 5 years, next 10 years, and a big picture life goal.

Grab a piece of paper and reflect on the following:

How did you grow this past year?

What’s not working in your life?

What is going well?

How is your attitude? Towards yourself and others?

Is your career heading in the right direction?

Are your finances where they need to be? Are you planning for the future?

Are you being the type of parent you would have wanted when you were growing up?

Are you being the type of person that you would want to spend time with?

Are you healthy? Physically? Mentally? Emotionally?

How are your relationships? With others? How about your relationship with yourself?

If your teenage self could see you now, what would he (or she) think?

What is one goal you have for EACH area of your life?

Have you traveled anywhere new?

Have you done ANYTHING to step outside your comfort zone?

Going forward, what kind of parent, sibling, professional, friend, partner (and other roles) do you want to be?

What do you want?

Self-reflection can be hard. It can be painful. But it can also be inspiring. It helps us to improve our lives and ensure we are living by our values.

Maybe this past year was awesome and full of joy. Maybe it was 12 months you’d rather forget. Either way a new year is upon us and it is up to you what you will make of it.

Give yourself the space and freedom to contemplate, to meditate, and to reflect on the past year.

It is time to start fresh. It is wild to me that a whole year has passed since the last one. They seem to go faster and faster with each passing year. We are all a year older. My questions for you: Are you a year wiser? Are you closer to reaching your goals? Are you willing to close the gap on your actual life vs. your ideal life?

Counseling can be a great place to start.

To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822
etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

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